Faculty from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise met with regional educators Thursday to discuss ways to strengthen existing collaboration to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics learning and education.

The group came together as part of a project called “Paving the Pathway to Appalachian Prosperity with Education Initiatives.” The primary topic was to discuss issues that face the region regarding STEM education and how to better support STEM teachers, and how to enhance STEM learning so students are more prepared for college. The group also developed a list of needs that local school systems have in terms of STEM education in local school systems.

Professor Josephine Rodriguez began the session by announcing that the work the group is doing was funded through a $5,000 Appalachian Prosperity Project grant from the University of Virginia. UVA Professor Frackson Mumba and UVa-Wise Professor Priscilla Brame, along with Rodriguez, received the APP grant earlier this year.

Regional teachers are interested in professional development and other aspects of STEM education as evidenced in the high response rate a survey produced earlier this year. Rodriguez said teachers understand the importance of professional development, and most filling out the survey expressed keen interest.

Greg Mullins, superintendent of Wise County Public Schools, outlined some of the STEM needs and how UVa-Wise can help teachers in STEM areas. He said Marcia Shortt, director of federal programs for his school system, spends many hours recruiting teachers, especially for STEM.  The school system used to have hundreds of applications, but that is not the case these days.

UVa-Wise graduates are a resource to help fill positions, Mullins said, but he also said professional development is a need as teachers struggle to introduce STEM curriculum in a day that is already filled with Standards of Learning core curriculum. The school system does an excellent job meeting the accountability standards, but it is difficult to bring more STEM curriculum on top of the core standards.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “We know these kinds of initiatives are what is going to get us there.”

Shortt agreed that teacher recruitment is a challenge, but she praised UVa-Wise and its education program for being a strong resource.

“We have been able to get the best and brightest, and we get them from right here,” she said of the College.

A change in state regulations that will decrease the number of SOL tests taken in some high school grades will free up some time for teachers to spread out and teach more STEM demonstrations and projects, Shortt said.

Mullins agreed and added that it takes everything a teacher brings to the classroom to get students where they need to be, but that leaves little time for extras. The potential for more time will be a benefit, he said, but the teachers and school system will need more STEM training.

Shortt said teachers would love to do more STEM work in the classroom, but it is tough to have the time to add extra items to the work day.

The information gathered in the group sessions will be used to look at better ways to bring STEM to the classroom. Smaller working groups will also be formed to help the group take more steps to strengthen collaboration in the future.